Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Review: 'The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales' by Kate Mosse

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A wonderfully atmospheric collection of stories from one of our most captivating writers, inspired by ghost stories, traditional folk tales and country legends from England and France. These tales are richly populated by spirits and ghosts seeking revenge; by grief-stricken women and haunted men coming to terms with their destiny - all rooted deep in the elemental landscapes of Sussex, Brittany and the Languedoc.

Review

"I hear someone coming. 

It has happened before. I pause and listen but no longer hear anything. I sigh. As always, hope is snatched away before it can take root. And so then, as always, I am carried back to that first December so very long ago..." [The Mistletoe Bride]

I don't read a lot of short story collections.  I don't even remember the last time that I picked one up without it being required reading for some course or other.  I grabbed this particular collection last year before Christmas alongside Mystery in White by Jefferson J. Farjeon, mainly because I've read a few books by Kate Mosse and have always enjoyed them, particularly her Languedoc trilogy.  To be honest, it was half price with Mystery in White and I don't even know if I was convinced when I bought it that I'd get round to reading it within the year(ish).  I dug it out this winter and even then only started it because it was in the living room when I wanted something to read and my other book was somewhere else in the house.  Lazy but true.  I figured I could read a story or two without 'spoiling' my focus on my other book (I'm usually a monogamous reader).  I read the opening story, The Mistletoe Bride, and absolutely loved it.  Haunting and sad and evocative.  I hurriedly finished up my other book and set upon giving these stories my full attention.

I know that it's a phrase that's bandied about with probably too much regularity but the writing in The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales (which I'm going to just call The Mistletoe Bride) really is poetic.  The stories are all pretty short (most are between ten and about 30 pages) but the writing is rich and spellbinding, making them feel longer and more indulgent.  I really took my time reading them, going back over the story in a couple of cases to nose out finer details that I'd missed on the first reading but that seemed glaringly obvious when I'd read the ending.

My wariness about reading short stories is that I usually just find them less satisfying than a full novel, feeling as though the ideas aren't fleshed out enough or that I don't spend enough time with a character to really care about them.  That absolutely wasn't the case with this collection.  I was astounded by how much Mosse has packed each tale.  Although the style of the writing is constant in a lot of ways, each story has a distinct tone and atmosphere (perhaps because this is a compilation of stories rather than a collection all written at the same time).  The Revenant is set in Sussex 1955 and somehow it just feels...right and completely different to The Drowned Village, say, that is set in Brittany in 1912.  I even found myself engaging with characters over a short space of time.  The last story in the collection, Ghost of Christmas Past is a mere 7 pages long and I welled up as I was reading the last page.

The Mistletoe Bride.
Find more here
What I particularly like about the way this collection has been put together is that each story starts with an illustration panel that perfectly set the scene and concludes with an 'Author's Notes' section, giving some background on where Mosse got the inspiration for the story or what she was trying to evoke.  The titular story, The Mistletoe Bride, for example, starts with the eerie image on the right and finishes up with a note detailing how Mosse was inspired to write the poignant story by a version that she had read as a child in a book of folklore owned by her parents.  Some are inspired by beautiful historic buildings that she has visited or places that intrigued her as a child.  Even if you aren't at all interested in the background to the stories, the notes are pretty handy pointers of where to look if you want to read more about the featured folklore or myth.  

If I had one (very minor) criticism, it would be that the ghostly thread linking the stories can make them feel a little predictable if you read too many all in one go.  I found that up to three at a time was about the right dose. For the most part, these are ghost stories and chain reading just made me feel like I was playing a game of 'Spot the Ghost'.  Niggle aside, these really are perfect for spreading over a few frosty nights where you don't mind the occasional chill up the spine.

Overall:  A beautiful collection with stunning writing that I would recommend to fans of historical fiction or ghost stories or myths or folklore.  If you don't normally read short stories, this collection is still absolutely worth giving a go.  There weren't any stories that I didn't like and while I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to call myself a short story convert, these have convinced me to give collections a go when they're written by an author I trust.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 29 December 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre: Fiction; Short Story Collection
Pictured Edition Published:  in October 2014 by Orion Books

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #5

This week has been kind of gross.  I've had a cold and lost my voice (which honestly before this week I didn't even really believe was an actual thing) and work's been so hectic that I haven't really had any down time (although I have been working from home, which was really necessary both for me and my colleagues who don't need to catch whatever disgusting thing I've had).  All the more important to take some time to pick out some highlights.

1.  My Christmas tree and other festive treats.  Last weekend, we put up our Christmas tree and it's little twinkly lights have been keeping my living room feeling cheery ever since.  Plus, while hunting for our box of decorations, I took the opportunity to dig out some of my more festive reads from my stash of books that are residing in the loft until they can be safely shelved early next year.  I've already read and reviewed Mystery in White by Jefferson J. Forjeon and I'm saving The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse for next week.  Neither are the usual warm and fuzzy Christmas literary fodder but I'm not that much of a fan of contemporary reads so these suit me just fine.

2.  The Ballroom by Anna Hope.  I loved Wake when I read it earlier this year and I was unbelievably excited to get an ARC of Hope's new novel.  It's set in an asylum on the Yorkshire moors in 1911 and I'm pretty certain that it will break my heart but the writing and atmosphere are stunning so ]tears will be a fair price.

3.  Christmas partying.  I'm lucky enough to work with a great group of people.  We had our Christmas party on Friday and it was a lot of fun.  Saturday morning was less so (damn you, open bar!) but getting to scoff pigs in blankets and drink gin with my work buddies was worth it.  We have another outing next Friday for just my team so I'm expecting more merriment then!

4.  Gift buying.  I love shopping for gifts for people!  I've done pretty much all of my Christmas shopping now and I've got a wrapping date with my best friend next weekend so that we can drink some wine, watch something festive (Love Actually, hopefully) and wrap up all of our gifts. 

5.  Curry, Malbec and Die Hard.  Ellie Lit Nerd was tweeting about Die Hard last week (I think...) and it gave me a craving to watch the film again that has loitered all week.  Last night, I cooked a pretty fierce beef madras, we cracked open a delicious bottle of wine and popped in the DVD.  It was an awesome evening and the perfect way to spend the day after a Christmas party.

Share your happy with the group through Ellie at Lit Nerd!  #sharethehappy

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Thoughts on Fables: Volume 01 from a Comic Newbie

I've always been pretty wary of comics.  I never really got into them when I was younger and might have been a little less obsessive about making sure that my comic reading was just so.  I have a thing about series and making sure that I read things in the "right" order.  It was a source of much discussion when Boyfriend and I first got together whether we should embark on the Star Wars films in the order they were released or so the story was in chronological order (we went with the story being in chronological order).  The world of comics always intimidated me because I was gravely concerned about 'getting it wrong', especially with long-running series where there are all kinds of story arcs and spin-offs and whatnot.  

I've been eyeing up Fables for a while.  I've read a couple of graphic novels this year (also a first for me) and I've really enjoyed them.  The next logical step seemed comics and Fables was a series I'd seen mentioned all over a whole range of blogs.  I put it on my wishlist, thinking that one day I'd give it a try and then the great and lovely Bex sent it to me for my birthday.  I'm so glad she did.  

The premise is pretty awesome.  A whole host of fairytale and nursery rhyme characters have been chased out of their world by the Adversary and are settled in modern day New York.  The community is led by Old King Cole, with Snow White acting as his deputy.  Bigby Wolf (of Red Riding Hood fame) heads up the security/crime division.  In this first volume that bundles together the first five issues, Snow White's sister, Red Rose, is missing and presumed dead and Bigby Wolf is tasked with finding out what happened.  Folklore meets detective fiction - what's not to like?

As my first comic experience, it was a superb one.  There are a couple of artists adding gorgeous illustrations to Bill Willingham's words and the effect is quite something.  Separating each issue is a double spread illustration that has a completely different look to those that bring Willingham's characters to life.  I think what surprised me was the more...adult content.  There's sex, a smidgen of violence and some swearing.  I thought it would feel awkward and it didn't.  The text and the illustrations fit together perfectly and I was able to get into the story.

I've read that this is sometimes billed as a comedy.  There is some humour and I did find it entertaining reading but I definitely wouldn't go so far as to describe it as a comedy.  I don't know what I would describe it as but not a comedy.  I actually cared about the mystery so it works on that level.  It's tongue in cheek about its fantasy elements so it fits neatly into that genre too without being too twee about it.  In short: if you like fairytales and you want to play 'spot the reference' while getting to enjoy a good old-fashioned murder mystery, Fables is for you.

I'm still a little bit worried about not quite getting the order right but I have a guide on a good reading order saved to my phone and I think I'm safe to just keep reading until Volume 06 so I'll definitely be carrying on with Fables.  It's a lot of fun and it's top notch escapism so if you've been considering comics but haven't had a clue where to start (like me), this is as good a place as any.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Review: 'Mystery in White' by Jefferson J. Farjeon

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

Review

I bought Mystery in White in a pique of festivity last year.  I'm led to believe that I'm far from alone in helping this 1930s crime story creep back into the limelight.  It saddens me that this wonderful little book has been out of print for years but I'm so glad that it's getting a revival.

What I love about books from the glory days of crime writing of Christie and Sayers, and what I loved about Mystery in White, is that the stories are intriguing and can keep you guessing without being so unsettling that you nearly rip your curtains off their poles trying to shut out the world and its darkness.  I'll admit that the actual mystery part of Mystery in White is a little lacking.  And Then There Were None this is not.  It's not that there's no tension (because there is), it's more that it's a different type of tension.  It's never quite clear whether the threat is from outside the house, inside the house or whether it's something altogether more supernatural and there were moments where I did do a quick nervous check over my shoulder but there didn't seem to be the sense of urgency that you might expect from a 'trapped with a murderer prowling' story.  Perhaps because the characters are quite a stiff upper lip bunch or because the constant drift of snow and the whitewash it leaves breeds a different type of atmosphere.  I absolutely wanted to know what the devil was going on in this mysterious house with seemingly haunted furniture but there was something less stomach-clenchingly nerve-wracking about the experience.  Like murder for the festive season, you might say!

Fear not - what Mystery in White might lack (slightly!) in the intrigue department, it more than makes up for in the charm department.  The writing has a warmth to it that just sings 'golden age'.  It's witty and the sense of humour is dry and I enjoyed every single minute I was reading it.  The characters are such a quintessentially British troop - old boreish chap that spent time in India and won't stop going on about it, a swooning, ankle twisting delicate dancer and an eccentric and super-perceptive psychic investigator.  You might not get to spend too long with them but they're a heck of a lot of fun all the same.

It's surprisingly comforting to read a 'trapped in by the snow' story without first having to have characters explain away their lack of mobile phones or wireless broadband.  It's snowing, the trains aren't running, the main characters aren't going anywhere and can't communicate with the outside world so you can just settle in and enjoy.

I don't want to say too much more.  Everything will be much better if you pick it up, ready to be wrong-footed by the shifting chronology and tangled up in a mystery or two.  When I picked it up, all I knew was what was on the blurb and this delicious quote that was printed on the back of my edition:
"The horror on the train, great though it may turn out to be, will not compare with the horror that exists here, in this house" 
Just great stuff all round.

Overall:  If you're a fan of Christie or Sayers or any other classic mystery writers and you want something festive without anybody falling in love over mince pies, this is the book for you.  At only 256 short pages, I just can't express how perfect this would be for a snowy evening indoors. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 09 December 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre: Fiction; Crime Fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in December 2014 by The British Library

If you're looking for a bookish treat for yourself or a buddy for this Christmas, you can currently snag 3 of The British Library's Crime Classics for the price of 2 on their website and purchases will support the British Library - WIN WIN!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #4

I knew it had been a while since I'd posted about the things making me happy but I didn't realise quite how long.  4 months.  Ridiculous behaviour!  Let's rectify that...

1.  New books.  I haven't been on a book buying ban or anything this year but I haven't been buying books at the same pace that I have in previous years.  I think perhaps because I've been vaguely conscious that in January, I separated 10 books from my pretty vast collection of unread books while they went into storage up in the attic pending us completing the fitting out of my "reading room" (Boyfriend prefers to call it a study but what does he know?).   Out of those 10 books, I've read 3 and am in the process of reading a fourth.  ANYway, the point of this is that my book buying has slowed.  Recently though I've treated myself to a few Canongate titles and I'm so excited about all of them.  Especially, The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber, which has maybe the best opening paragraph ever:
"Watch your step.  Keep your wits about you; you will need them.  This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before.  You may imagine, from other stories you've read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged.  The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether"
2.  Writing about books.  It's been too long since I sat down and tapped out some thoughts on books that I've been reading and listening to.  Yesterday afternoon, though, with Boyfriend distracted by the PlayStation, I settled down with my Midori and wrote some mini reviews of some YA fantasy/dystopian audiobooks.  It wasn't the most glowing post I've ever written but it was nice to just be writing about books.

3.  My work.  I am insanely busy on the run up to Christmas and have a workload that I think is actually better suited to three people.  I'm shattered and I have a stinking cold but we're working on some really exciting and challenging projects that are reminding me just why I love my job.

4.  CHRISTMAS.  I love Christmas.  We're putting our tree up this afternoon and nipping out to the  local farm shop to put in our order for the ingredients for Christmas lunch (we're hosting my parents and Boyfriend's parents this year, which is a first that I'm really looking forward to).  We have 18 bottles of prosecco in the garage chilling for the festive season and our village is looking twinkly and beautiful.  I know it's still early for some people but I am so ready for it to be Christmas!

4.  The Wheel of Time series.  I'm re-reading the second in the series (The Great Hunt) at the moment and I adore it.  It's been absolutely years since I read the series for the first time (15 of them, I think) and going back to the beginning of the story is just so much fun and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy
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Share your happy with the group through Ellie at Lit Nerd!  #sharethehappy

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Audiobook Mini Reviews: YA Dystopia and Fantasy

Legend by Marie Lu

I'd heard a lot of great things about this series so I was pretty keen when I saw the first in the series on my library's audiobook list.  It was a disappointment.  If you've read any YA Dystopia in recent years, chances are you'll be able to take a stab at make some pretty accurate guesses about the plot from the blurb.  Shining light in the Republic's academy, June, is devastated when her brother is murdered.  The country's most wanted criminal, Day, becomes the prime suspect and June launches off on a state-sponsored under-cover mission to track him down and exact some revenge.  When their paths cross, they realise that (shocker) everything with the Republic is not quite as it seems...

I struggled to find the story very compelling because I felt like I'd already read it.  I finished the book and felt as though all of the detail had been forgotten somewhere - there's a great ramble about "the Colonies" and how the Republic hates them.  Problem is, it's difficult for me to really get into this Republic v. Colonies struggle if it isn't fully described.  What are the Colonies?  Why does the Republic hate them so much?  What's the political position of the Colonies?  I haven't a clue.  It felt a little bit as though it was relying on the atmosphere that pervades the genre rather than creating any of its own; you're lead to believe that you hate the Republic not because you're really shown why (at least at first) but because you know that's who you're supposed to hate.

The characters are also pretty two dimensional and if it hadn't been for the fact that June and Day's chapters were narrated by different actors in the audiobook, I'd have struggled to tell them apart.  The romance is shallow and uninspiring.  All in all, I felt like as a first book, it's too light.  There isn't enough time spent building the world or developing the characters and I don't plan on picking up the next one to fill in the blanks because I kind of don't care about them.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars for being a passable re-hash of the 'Big Bad Republic Tramples Poor' trope.  It doesn't offer anything new or particularly interesting but it isn't appalling enough to inspire any major ranting.  Just ok.

The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix

This is another series that I'd heard wonderful things about.  The concept of the series is pretty great - Sabriel is adopted as a baby by the Abhorsen, a bell-wielding necromancer, and sent off to Ancelstierre as a child to learn charter magic and grow up away from her death-walking father.  When her father goes missing, the first book sees Sabriel returning to the Old Kingdom and setting off to find him with a tremendously sarcastic talking cat.  The later books are set about 20 years after the first and follow younger, new characters as they face down an impending apocalypse.

One of my main problems with the series overall was that the books are quite repetitive, which gives it away as epic fantasy for slightly younger readers.  Nix has gone to the trouble of creating a wonderful magic system for the necromancers that is centred around bells, each of which has a different name and power.  What was frustrating was that every time a bell was used, I was treated to a run-down of its characteristics and abilities.  Which was fine the first couple of times but by the end of the third book, felt a bit worn.  The characters are also very much young adults.  They can be whiny and there's a lot of growing into powers and learning about who they are and who they can be etc. etc.  It works well in the first book but is much less dexterously handled in the latter two.
 
I did like the series.  I might not sound like I did, but I did.  It's quite gritty and focusses a lot on Death (which is a place with levels that the Abhorsen can walk through that I wish had been featured more) and the undead.  It's dark in places and worth reading if you're patient and the odd bout of self-pity/whining.  Maybe they'd be better read with a few books in between to break them up and give you chance to forget some of the facts that you'll be reminded about later on.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars for having some great ideas and concepts that were just lacking in their execution for me.  It also loses stars for having a talking dog ("the Disreputable Dog") feature heavily in the second and third books because it is a) is a talking dog, which is a bit insipid and didn't appeal to me because I'm just not a dog person and b) has far too many hidden powers that conveniently manifest themselves when the going gets tough and the characters need an easy out.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Oof.  Sorry, friends.  This set of mini reviews isn't the most positive I've ever written!  I think that maybe YA fantasy and I need to take a little break...

This offering is about Grace, a teenager living in Mercy Falls who has a frankly unhealthy preoccupation with a wolf with yellow eyes who lives in the woods behind her house.  One day she meets a boy, Sam, who has hauntingly familiar yellow eyes and...guessed where this is going yet?  Yep, this is another book that's pretty predictable.  And a bit annoying.  

The twist on the usual werewolf day/night shifts was interesting - these werewolves get to be human while its warm and turn into wolves for the winter.  Eventually, they run out of summers and turn into wolves forever.  Unfortunately for Grace, this is Sam's last summer as a human and so the lovers have to race to find a way to stay together.  Perhaps I'm a cynic but I really struggle to buy into a relationship that's based on years of Grace having watched Sam as a wolf.  There are some minor moral quandaries along the way but the plot is really just Grace and Sam canoodling and trying to plan a life together in their second month together.

My sister loves this series so it could be just me but my overwhelming feelings is just a world of 'meh'.  

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars for making me feel like I was wading through tropes.  Cross-species relationship, parents that are conveniently always busy and out of the main characters' way, InstaLove (because I'm sorry but I will not believe that meaningful 'getting to know each other' time can happen while one of the parties is a wolf) and high school friendships straining under the weight of one person's new obsession with The One.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Canongate Handpicked: Get On It

One gloomy Friday evening at the end of October, I was cooking dinner and browsing Twitter and spotted something that set my book loving heart all a-flutter: order any book from Canongate before the weekend was out and I'd get a free book, handpicked by one of their lovely staff members.

They had me at "free book".  

As always, excuse my photography!
Deciding what to buy turned out to be a tricky task.  It has rarely (never) occurred to me to buy direct from a publisher's website.  I don't know why that is.  Maybe because, although there are publishers whose books I know that I almost always love (Canongate because I love the Canongate Myths books, Orion's fantasy imprint Gollancz and Vintage because of their gorgeous red-spined classics), a book's publisher isn't what draws me in.  Browsing Canongate's website and realising just how many great books they've brought to the world (and how many of these books I actually already own...) was an eye-opener.

In the end, I went for The Well by Catherine Chanter because the cover is delightfully creepy and it sounds excellent.  Also, give me a story about a family moving into a seemingly idyllic new residence that turns out to not quite be all it seems and I will be happy.  There was no way that I was going to be picking just one once I'd started exploring.  My second pick was The Ghost Rider by Ismail Kadar.  Who could resist this blurb?!
An old woman is awoken in the dead of night by knocks at her front door. The woman opens it to find her daughter, Doruntine, standing there alone in the darkness. She has been brought home from a distant land by a mysterious rider she claims is her brother Konstandin. But unbeknownst to her, Konstandin has been dead for years. What follows is chain of events which plunges a medieval village into fear and mistrust. Who is the ghost rider?
Not me.

I wasn't sure what I was more excited for: the two books I'd chosen or my handpicked wildcard.

The two books arrived and while I was as excited as I ever am to receive new books, it then became apparent that I was in fact mostly curious and excited about the wildcard.  Thankfully, it arrived the next day.  Cue gushing.

What surprised me was that the package didn't feel like a hastily thrown together freebie or a gimick designed to get people buying more on the run up to Christmas.  It actually felt like receiving something put together by somebody who loves books just as much as I do.  Obviously there couldn't be a great deal of planning in what to get me personally because all the person doing the book selecting had to go on were the two books that I'd picked out on that occasion from their pretty hefty range but it still felt thoughtful.  It was nice to think that someone had taken the time to pick out a book, write out a postcard and bundle it up with a letter.  



And here's another great and glorious thing.  Left to my own devices, I'd have almost certainly not have picked out No one belongs here more thank you but now that I have it, I can't wait to read it.  I don't usually read short stories but I've seen nothing but glowing praise for this collection so it seems as good a place as any to start.  So not only was it free, it might just push my reading in a new direction.  Book buying from other book lovers is always the best kind of book buying.

I have no affiliation with Canongate (sadly) and this post is entirely unprompted - I just think that in the run up to Christmas, there is little that could be better than a bookish pick-me-up.  Or pick-you-up.  That should be a phrase.

If you missed the chance to get yourself a free handpicked book the first time around, get over to Canongate now.  You have three whole days to order a book and then you'll get your own package of loveliness at no extra cost.  I may have already ordered another book (The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber) so that I can get another surprise...

Monday, 23 November 2015

Moby Dick Read-Along: Week Six - THE END!


Wow.  What an ordeal THAT turned out to be!  The early days of highlighting endless quotes and revelling in Ishmael's witty chatter seem a dim and distant memory.  Hanna and I are now even for the Hope: A Tragedy debacle.  I unwittingly inflicted exploding animals on her; she unknowingly inflicted graphic animal butchery on me.  We're quits, right?

In case my gleeful post title didn't give it away, this is the last post in our read-along - if you don't know the ending of Moby Dick and you want to keep it that way, look away now.  Actually, before you do look away, please note that I in no way encourage you to read this book unless you have frankly borderline-unhealthy interest(s) in whale anatomy, how to skin and de-blubber a whale, rope and/or the colour white.  You have been warned.

Right.  On with the prompts! 

1) Let's start simply. Did you like this book?

No.  No, I did not.  I liked the first couple of weeks' reading when the tone was light and essay-free, Ishmael really shined through as a character instead of just being a neutral narrator and the world was full of mystery.  It really started to fall apart for me I think maybe in the third week?  Whenever the monologues about whales started.  

When they started, Ishmael's personality sort of faded away and the story of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick became like debris drifting around in a sea of facts nobody ever wanted to know about whales.  I understand that when the book was published, the background was probably essential in engaging readers who couldn't pick a whale out of a fish line up (apparently) and that's fine but why, oh why has it endured as a 'classic' and WHY does it continue to be dangled in front of diligent readers' noses as Worthy?  I hate to say it (and you can call me a philistine if you like) but this book is dull and no amount of people on GoodReads extolling the virtues of Melville's charming prose will convince me otherwise.

2) Is the ending what you expected? Was it worth the wait?

No and no.  I'll be honest, I thought that Ahab would get his whale.  I didn't want him to because one intimate account of a successful whale harpooning was more than enough for me but I thought Moby Dick would come a cropper.  I thought Ahab would probably die in the attempt and that there would be some kind of poetic mutual dying of a hunter and his quarry.  I did NOT think that the ending would be not dissimilar to many I wrote as a child.  "And then they all died" is not a million miles away from, "And then they woke up and realised it had all been a dream".  

I felt cheated.  I felt like I'd endured endless hours of wading through a whale textbook only to be fobbed off with something entirely unfulfilling.  And don't even get me started on the fact that there were 135 bloody chapters in the bloody book and only 3 of them actually featured Moby bloody Dick.

I remain glad that Moby Dick had the audacity to defend himself and lived to fight another day but I'd rather not have had to tolerate much tedium for a rushed ending.

3) Do you think this book is rife with symbolism and metaphor... or is it just about a whale?

I grumbled about this last week and I actually stand by what I said.  Again, ignorant or not, I just can't believe that somebody would wrap up a fable about the fallibility of man or whatever it's rumoured to be about in so much drivel about whaling.  What purpose would that serve?  I don't doubt that there was some symbolism and if I hadn't been distracted by just trying to stay awake, I would probably be able to tell you about it now.  Overall, though, I just don't buy that this is fundamentally about anything other than a sodding whale.

4) Is it likely you'll ever read this book again, or recommend it to anybody?  

Good heavens, no.  I neither hate myself nor any other human beings enough to suggest that they pick this up.  Unless I know them to be a whale scholar.  Then I might.  But even then I'd have to say, "Melville thought that whales were fish" and that would probably put them off unless they were very specifically a scholar of Views on Whales in the 19th Century.  

To sum up: no.  

5) Did you end using the tactics you identified earlier or did you just slog through to the end? 

I slogged.  I tried to remain focussed on the 'just 10 more minutes and you've knocked off another chapter' but it became so hard to pep talk myself.  This last week I was mostly just concerned about getting through each page.  Not even the near-death of Queequeg managed to engage me.  It was rough.

6) Sum up this book in six words. 

A poor excuse for a classic.

And on that slightly miserable and grumbly note, I'm going to go and carry on reading The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan.  Because if there's one thing my reading year clearly needs, it's another 600+ page book.  At least I know that this one doesn't include anything to do with whales.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Moby Dick Read-Along: Belated Week Four Thoughts


I was away last week and didn't get to pitch into Hanna's passive-aggressive assault on Week Four's chapters.  I have some feelings and they need sharing.  Also, I didn't at all get time to do Week Three's prompts either so it's high time I got something into the #letsreadmobydick fray.  

My main feeling right now (especially now that I've now also finished Week Five's reading) is relief that we've made it this far!

1) Please tell me you didn't attempt to read this week's chapters whilst eating. How did you find the... instructive aspects of these chapters?

I did not, thankfully.  Those chapters were harrowing.  I was surprised, actually, by just how unpleasant I found them.  It's not that I thought that whale harpoonings and...'processing' would make for nice bedtime reading, just that I didn't expect them to be so gory.  It seemed to come out of nowhere!  One minute, we're bumbling along and being bored to tears with excruciating details of rope and then BAM.  Horrific.

2) What tactics have you been employing to get through this book? Marking off chapters? Reading online summaries? Crying into the pages?

Very similar to when we tackled War and Peace, actually.  I'm reading it on my Kindle and I have it set to show the 'time remaining' in the chapter.  It's not really that accurate but I find that going onto a new chapter it's quite comforting to be able to tell myself that it'll be over in just a few minutes.  I do try to avoid accidentally "clicking" onto 'time remaining in book', though.  Nothing good comes from that.

3) Why do you think Moby Dick has become a classic? 

I honestly have no idea.  I've been thinking about this a lot while we've been reading.  My fledgling conclusion is that there is something about Great American Novels that I just don't get.  I'm utterly at a loss as to just what thousands of modern readers have seen in this book that must be preserved and shared for generations to come.  I can see why it might have been fascinating in the late 1800s, say, when knowledge of the world wasn't as expansive and they couldn't just pop on a David Attenborough documentary and learn about the anatomy of whales in a far more charming manner.  Now, though?  No.

My personal opinion is that this is a classic case of readers and academics imposing metaphors and symbolism onto a work that might not have been intended.  I fully accept that there are symbols and there are themes but implying that the whole novel is a metaphor for some great human struggle against an unknowable enemy strikes me as wishful thinking.  If that were true, why would Melville waste everybody's time with endless descriptions of types of whales, Whales Through History and the rope used on whaling ships?  All of which isn't to mention the philosophical diversions into the nobility of whaling as a life calling.  I don't doubt that there are themes to explore if a reader has the inclination (I don't) but I'm completely failing to grasp the Higher Meaning amongst the whale heads.

We've been rewatching Parks and Recreation recently because it's bloody brilliant and this came up in a rather timely manner:


I hear ya, Ron.

4) So apparently people can get stuck inside a whale's head and nearly drown. Please inform me exactly how you intend to read this book to your children as a bedtime story? 

How awful was that?!  Good heavens.  Just being in a whale head at all sounds horrific to me but getting stuck in there and dragged into the depths of the sea?!  Words can not express how awful I find that thought.  I love my potential future children too much to subject them to this book.  I'd read them the first couple of weeks' chapters maybe so that they can learn about tolerance and then I'd play "1, 2, skip a few, 99, 100" to get to the end.  "Once there was a man named Ishmael.  He made friends with a man named Queequeg.  They went on a boat trip.  The End."

I mean, really, what was Miss Honey THINKING letting Matilda pick this up?!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Review: 'Into the Wild' by Jon Krakauer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself.  He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and, unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away

Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Review

When I first gave Into the Wild five stars, it was with a wavering finger and a little doubt. The book really touched me and I loved every minute that I was listening to it but, thought I, was that because Christoper McCandless' story was so moving or was it the book? Could I give a book 5 stars because I found its non-fiction subject matter affected me?  It took me a little while to realise that the question is stupid.  It wasn't only McCandless' story that had been so moving but Krakauer's telling of it.  

I understand that the story wasn't particularly positively reported in the American press, not least because McCandless' fatal journey into the Alaskan wilderness was seen as reckless and juvenile and that, when it came down to it, he was a victim of his own stupidity and nothing else.  When Krakauer originally published an article about McCandless in 1993, his empathy was derided.  A few, however, reached out to Krakauer and provided letters and postcards and memories of McCandless/'Alexander Supertramp'.  

Those letters and the stories of the people who knew McCandless are meted out perfectly.  Alongside the pieced together narrative of McCandless' life are stories of other young people who for their own reasons took off into the wilderness, never to be heard from again, and Krakauer's own recollections of mountaineering.  The effect is really quite something.  I listened to most of it while training for a half marathon and all the talk of nature and freedom and outdoor living fit perfectly at a time when I needed all the inspiration I could get to keep pounding the pavements at less than sociable times of the day.

Into the Wild actually made me want to do more than that - Krakauer's sympathetic chronicle of McCandless' ambitions and dreams made me want to live more cleanly and more freely and with less of a focus on Things...
"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty" [Taken from a letter Christopher McCandless wrote to a friend]
Ok, so I might not exactly be camping in the wilderness, spurning all of my worldly possessions and retreating from my family but this book made me think that there's some beauty in the simplicity of the aspiration to just be a little braver and a little less shackled by routine.

Five stars it is.

Overall:  I don't read a lot of non-fiction so the fact that I've given this 5 stars hopefully says more than any snappy sentence I could come up with here.  In case it doesn't:  Into the Wild is a moving account of a young man who wanted to live differently, and very nearly managed to prove that it was possible to branch out and live on your own terms with nothing but a backpack full of Tolstoy and rice.  If you're looking for something that might give you a new perspective and a fresh way of approaching things (or even just something that you can have a good cry over), Into the Wild is for you.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: August 2015
Format:  Audiobook
Source:  Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Non-fiction; Biography
Pictured Edition Published:  in January 1997 by Anchor

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Moby Dick Read-along: Week Two - Chapters 22 to 41


Wow.  This week was not easy.  I know that I wasn't alone in breathing my sigh of relief when this week was over, thankfully.  Ah, the beauty of a read-along.  

1) We've met Captain Ahab now. What do you think of him? Did he meet your expectations? Who would you cast to play him in a movie?

Captain Ahab has exceeded my expectations!  I wanted him to be grisly and wild.  Conflicted and genuinely intriguing was more than I'd dared hope for.  I think this is one of my favourite quotes from him:
"They think me mad - Starbuck does; but I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened!  That wild madness that's only calm to comprehend itself!  The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and - Aye!  I lost this leg.  I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer" [Page 119, Kindle edition]

I've been disappointed that we haven't seen more of him, really.  Fewer rantings about the apparently misunderstood cleanliness of whaling and more Captain Ahab would be just great. 

In my head, Captain Ahab looks like...wait, like Geoffrey Rush.  I have a memory that Hanna and me have done this before but I was fumbling around the internet trying to work out who played "the guy from Pirates of the Caribbean who goes on about eating a lot of apples in the first film".  The answer is Geoffrey Rush and Hanna beat me to it.

2) Some chapters seem to focus on action and attempt to move the story along, whilst others seem to ponder the concept of a whaling and life. Do you find one type easier to follow than the other?

I'm pretty sure that I nearly died during the chapter describing the different species of whale.  Or at least, my brain nearly did.  I read all of the words but I'm pretty sure I took about 7 of them in.  And those 7 weren't in order.

Every time Melville starts lecturing, I stop absorbing.  

3) Keeping in mind everything we've learned about whaling this week, has it changed your views on it at all?

Not at all.  I think it's appalling.  One man's rambly discourse about how it's really a lot cleaner than I was thinking (because my real problem with it is of course how mucky the whole practice might be) is not going to change that.

I understand that perhaps in the 1850s maybe people's concerns were a little less animal welfare/extinction prevention focussed and that Melville's attempt at very dull propaganda might have worked but now?  Not so much.

4) Why do you think Herman Melville suddenly branches off into lectures about how acceptable/difficult/clean whaling is? 

Because he hates his readers and wants them to die?  Ok, fine.  I'm being melodramatic.  

My real answer:  I know very little (nothing) about whaling in the 19th century but these chapters read to me like the tide was turning against whaling generally or as though whalers were seen as second-class citizens and he was trying to do some good for people who apparently he believed were worth more than that.  

5) Do the scientific misconceptions bother you at all? i.e. that whales are fishes etc. 

Although it's the kind of thing that might usually bother me, it actually doesn't very much.  I find it interesting, in a way.  It's one thing knowing that people once thought that whales were fish but it's another reading a whole series of misconceptions branded as fact.  Which I suppose they were at the time.

Onward, read-alongers!  I'm actually most of the way through Week Three's chapters and they're not bad!  Sure, it's not all been plain sailing (sorry - someone had to say it!) but it's better.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Ode to the Midori Traveller's Notebook

I've now had a pretty well stocked Midori Traveller's Notebook since about June and it's about time I shared the love.

I've never really found a planner/notebook "system" that has worked for me. I've diligently bought a diary every year, I have about 5 part-filled review notebooks and a couple of journals that I've started whenever I've been feeling particularly introspective. My problem with all of those is that it's tricky to carry around a diary, a review notebook and a journal in your handbag when you also have to carry around a book to read (you know, just in case) in a handbag already pretty well stuffed with crap. All of that meant that I kept typing stuff in my phone to note down later, most of which then got forgotten about. 

The Midori Traveller's Notebook is my perfect solution. I've been getting into the habit of carrying it everywhere and I LOVE it. 


For the first few weeks, I carried it around in the little cotton sleeve that it was delivered in because I wanted it to stay neat and tidy.  Character schmaracter, was my thinking.  And then *dun dun duuuuuun* the sleeve got lost.  So I had to start carrying it around all by itself.  And it's starting to look so lovely!  I was wrong to imprison it.  All of the reviews are right - the leather ages perfectly.  It's got tiny little grooves all over it and it's got some fine creases down the spine and for some reason, it just doesn't bother me as it would normally.  It's just so pretty!

So far, I have it filled with four notebooks:

1.  Planner:  I have an "official" Midori planner with the days of the week on the left hand side and grid paper on the right hand side.  I've been a page-a-day girl myself before but then I end up missing things because I forget to flip forward far enough.  This is the perfect combination because the grid page is perfect for list-making, which I love.  Plus, everything I have from Midori has been such great quality.

2.  Journal:  This has been the real surprise success.  Having somewhere to jot down idle thoughts and stick in cards from restaurants I've visited and tickets to films and plays I've seen is so relaxing.  I find it easier to let things go once I've written them down, which is liberating.  Plus, I feel like I'm making something lovely that I can keep and look back over when I'm older *enter Washi tape obsession*  I'm using the plain paper Midori insert that came with my Midori.

3.  Books and Blogging:  Another love.  I adore having a review notebook with me again.  I can jot down quotes before I forget about them.  I can scribble down my gut reactions to the books I'm reading so that when I eventually get round to writing a review months later, I can remember exactly why I was disgruntled with the characters or in love with the plot or whatever.  Seeing as I'm a lot less whimsical when it comes to my blogging notebook, I'm using a lined Midori insert and, as ever, it's superb.  I write in biro (because my handwriting is tiny and ball pens and fountain pens either make it smaller or just make it into one big smudge) so I'm not really testing it out for bleeding or whatnot but the paper really is excellent.

4.  Notes and Miscellany:  I'm not sure about this one.  While we were away recently, my fourth was a gorgeous 100gsm cream insert that I got from CraftyAliCat on Etsy that I used as a travel journal.  Normally, I use a green 45gsm insert as somewhere to write down random things that I want to remember, like lists of albums that I want to buy and ideas for trips away and restaurants I want to go to.  It's handy but I feel as though I could be doing something better with the space.  We'll see.

I also have a kraft folder insert that means I have a pocket in the front and in the back that I keep bits and pieces I want to stick in later.  I also have things like stamps and passport photos and my double-sided sticky pads for when I do get chance to journal while I'm out and about.

In the end, what has really made me a complete Midori fangirl is the quality.  It feels like I've bought something that I can use and adapt for years.  I like that I can use actual notebooks that I'll be able to pull out and keep when they're full.  I find it easier to write in than a Filofax, say, because there isn't anything in the middle but a few bands of elastic.

Want one of your own?  You can buy them on Amazon for about £30 but I'd really recommend a bit of patience with international shipping and using Pencils.jp.  Even with paying shipping costs from Japan, the prices are excellent and they stock an amazing range of Midori stuff.  Using the current exchange rate, you can get a Midori with a plain notebook insert for about £20.  A six month undated planner will set you back about £8-9 on Amazon; you'll pay half that from Pencils.jp.  You can also get some gorgeous washi tapes for less than £1.  There's a minimum spend if you want shipping to the UK (which I think is about 2,000 YEN/£10 but I can't quite remember) but you'll get a lot more for your money if you can spend that.  The service is great - you'll get an accurate shipping quote  based on the weight of your chosen items before you commit to the order, update emails and a tracking number.  I'm in no way affiliated with the site; I just think it's brilliant.

So to sum up:  I'm kind of addicted to the whole Midori Traveller's Notebook set up.  Let's talk planners, paper and washi!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Moby Dick Read-along: Week 1 - Chapters 1 to 21


21 chapters down already! Thank goodness Melville decided to mix in some short, snappy chapters among some of the epic ones to keep things moving.

Thanks go to Hanna as always for her handy prompts! Let's talk Moby Dick.

1) So, first impressions. What do we think of the novel?

I don't want to speak too soon but it's not torturous! I genuinely wasn't excited about getting started and it's a testament to how much I love Hanna that I did just that. Honestly, though, I'm actually quite enjoying it! Melville's writing is actually quite witty and the tone is warm and chatty. Not anywhere near as dry and stuffy as I'd been expecting!

I wouldn't say I love it all (the chapter-long sermon about Jonah made me want to cry) but on the whole, I'm feeling quite relieved and as though I'll make it through the next few weeks. 

2) What about Ishamel's attitude to Queequeg? Is his tolerance ahead of its time or just a form of casual racism?

You know, I've gone backwards and forwards over this while I've been reading this week. Before the chapter where Queequeg is observing Ramadan, I was quite impressed by how Ishmael and Queequeg's friendship was portrayed. Sure, Queequeg is referred to as a "savage" or a "cannibal" almost exclusively so it's hardly the most enlightened but the fact that it's a relationship of equals did strike me as being quite forward-thinking.

I'm not so sure now. The chapter where Ishmael displays such an unwillingness to engage with Queequeg about his beliefs and talks about quite belittlingly about how religions can have whatever silly traditions they like as long as they don't harm anyone (believer included). The language during that chapter felt patronising and ignorant. 

But then Ishmael defended Queequeg when he took him to sign up to go a-whaling so I just don't know. That's my conclusion: I don't know, although I'm sort of leaning towards it being ahead of its time. 

3) Do you think Ishmael should have heeded Elijah's spooky warning?

How creepy is that guy?! Putting aside the fact that if he had heeded the warning. there'd be no story, I think yes. That said, is it a good policy to take life advice from crazy-seeming strangers in the street? Probably not. Still, there's be alarm bells and if you're heading off to sea with someone that you're warned off, I'd maybe say think twice.

4) Captain Ahab! He's almost with us. What do you expect from him?

Finally! This is going to be hard to explain but I'm expecting Ahab to meet the expectations I had for Ishmael.  Sort of a stereotypical wisened, foul-tempered seaman with one leg and a grudge. Maybe a bit eccentric, too. He's had quite the build-up so I'm looking forward to meeting him.

I've said it before and I hope I'll say it again but I'm pleasantly surprised so far. Long may this continue, read-alongers!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Audiobooks Mini Reviews: Classics

It's been quiet on the review front around here this year.  I've been meaning to catch up with the books that I've listened to and read but obviously that isn't quite going to happen.  Enter, spate of reviewlettes.  There are some books that I've read and listened to that will get the luxury of their own posts but where my feelings aren't as deep and meaningful, mini reviews will do.  Starting with some classics...

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

Edward Prendick is rescued from a shipwreck by a passing boat and eventually travels with his rescuers to disgraced biologist Dr Moreau's island.  As Prendick starts to investigate the animalistic screams that torment him in the night, he learns more than he wants to know about the grotesque experiments that Dr Moreau is carrying out.

As with so many classics, this book is most fascinating when you look at the context.  It was published in 1896, around the time when English scientists were pioneering work in animal vivisection.  The experiments that Dr Moreau was performing on his island were probably beyond anything that the activists at the time would have imagined but now?  If anything, the book is more scary because now we actually know just what might be possible.  The products of Dr Moreau's experiments and their struggle to balance their animal and human aspects and adhere to The Law are disturbing but do pose some interesting, lofty questions about what it is that makes us human and what it means to be 'civilised'.  It's a good story and it's not-so-subtly political/philosophical and it's pretty great.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars for being tremendously creepy and for still being worryingly relevant over 100 years after it was originally published.  If you haven't read it, it would be a great Hallowe'en read.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I've always remembered this book as one of my favourites from primary school.  I had what I thought were clear memories of the dreaded Black Spot and of Long John Silver and his parrot.  When I came across the audiobook, I was excited about the prospect of getting to relive a childhood favourite.  Oh, how disappointed I was after the initial flurry of fondly remembered activity in the early chapters gave way to a faintly dull story of battle tactics.

The story is probably familiar to most.  After inheriting the possessions of a former pirate,  Jim Hawkins and his guardians hire a boat and a crew and set sail to an island told to be the location of Captain Flint's buried treasure.  Unbeknown to Hawkins, he's sailing around with a band of swashbuckling pirates and about to find himself embroiled in mutinous plotting and double-crossing.  The first half was the good old-fashioned adventure that I'd been hoping for.  What I'd forgotten about (or had never been made aware of when I was a child) was the later section where two warring factions sat around on the island considering the best spot to inhabit and how best to battle their opponents and sort of occasionally fighting or engaging in a bit of trickery.  It was...not so great.  Clearly those supervising my childhood literary exploits knew what they were doing when they glossed over it.  It's a fun read, just not quite as fun as I'd remembered.

I will definitely still read this with any children that I might one day have (hopefully one like the pictured Barnes and Noble edition, which is frankly gorgeous) because I think it has some fabulous elements that really captured my young imagination.  Maybe there'll be some glossing over, though...

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars for dampening my childhood memories of rum-swigging pirate fun with tactics and island warfare.

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

I accidentally downloaded a BBC dramatisation of this one when I had half my brain on the decorating that the book was to entertain me through (glossing skirting boards needs livening up - shocking, I know). I wasn't sure whether that "counted" as a book but then I figured that I listened to the story and given that I wouldn't go on to read the book, it made the cut.

This was my first encounter with Miss Marple. I've been dubious before because I've always imagined the old dear to just be a meddler that somehow happens to be find herself near a lot of crime scenes and pokes her nose into an investigation before sitting back and watching everything unravel. I'm not sure that I'm entirely dissuaded that my rude assumptions were completely incorrect but I didn't seem to mind her manipulating ways by audio so maybe I could get into the Marple stories in my more patient hours.

In this outing, Elspeth McGillicuddy is minding her own business on a train when she glances out the window and witnesses a murder on a passing train. Reporting it to the police proves tricky when she can't identify the murderer or the victim and there's no body or physical evidence. Enter her friend, Miss Marple. The first few chapters annoyed me as Miss Marple manipulated Lucy Eyelesbarrow into posing as a housekeeper to infiltrate the Crackenthorpe household so that she could supervise and glory-steal from afar. Later, though, the story is a classic family murder mystery with a whole host of grossly unpleasant wealthy people infighting and plotting. What's not to like?

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars for not being as annoying as I'd expected and for saving me from the tedium of decorating.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Moby Dick Read-along: Week Zero - Introductions


And so it begins! 

As per the War and Peace read-along, Hanna has posted some prompts to help us all muddle our way through the whaling extravaganza. This week is introductions and expectations! 

If you haven't signed up yet and want to, you can find the sign up post HERE and the schedule HERE. (OK, so it turns out that the Blogger app doesn't let you insert links...pretend they're there and I'll add them in later!)

1) What are you expecting from the novel? Do you have any preconceptions?

I didn't have chance to get hold of the laptop last night and get this posted so I'm actually writing this having read the first three chapters and a little bit of the fourth. Not enough to give me any great insight or revelations into what's coming but enough for my initial fear to be assuaged a little bit!

I'm expecting it to be a bit of a long haul, if I'm honest. There's a reason why none of us have eagerly started reading this of our own volition. I'm still a bit fearful of the time that will be dedicated to describing the sea and worried that I'll find myself unspeakably bored when we're on the ship and hunting down the White Whale. 

2) What do you already know about the plot or character?

Next to nothing. I know that there's a whale and I know that Ishmael (thank you, Matilda) is probably going to be involved in hunting it. That's all I've got!

3) This book, unlike War & Peace, isn't a translation? Do you think that will make a difference?

I totally agree with both Hanna and Bex in that the language will probably feel a little more dated than the language in a translation because there's nobody refreshing it. I also think that it will make a difference to the read-along aspect specifically because this time we know that we're all reading the same words and (blessedly) the same character names!

4) Have you read Moby Dick before? What prompted you to read it now?

Good heavens, no! I very much doubt that a book telling the tale of some whaling is going to be something that I'm going to be re-reading. 

I think that the question for me is WHO prompted me to read it now. Because Hanna did. If she hadn't organised a read-along, I would not be reading it. Call it residual guilt from the time that I *may* have been involved in her reading a book that included exploding animals, if you like...

5) Show us a photo of your book! 

I'm reading on my Kindle again. Kindles were made for fat classics! I'm going to acquire the Penguin English Library edition too so that I can display it proudly on my shelves. If I'm reading the bloody book, I'm getting the kudos!


Good luck, everybody!!